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February 2024
Story by Zack Morton
Hunters: Samantha Morton
State: New Mexico
Species: Deer - Mule

In 2022, my daughter drew a Colorado Eastern Plains muzzleloader deer tag and missed the buck-of-a-lifetime. It was her first shot at a mule deer at only 14 years old, and I wondered what effect it would have on the next opportunity she would get.

For 2023, she drew a second choice New Mexico deer tag in a unit we’d never hunted before and that wasn’t particularly known for high success or quality. Years earlier, my dad and I hunted the neighboring unit and thought the potential could be worthwhile in the later youth season, which also had significant tag reductions this year, so I thought the reduced pressure could make it even better.

With Samantha’s school schedule, we were not able to scout the unit prior to the hunt, but we had some family friends who lived in the unit and were able to share a lot of information about areas to focus on and others to avoid. My dad was excited to go with us, and it meant a lot to my daughter and me for all three of us to be there together. We knew it would require a lot of driving and glassing as well as pushing draws throughout the day. Thankfully, there were a lot of roads to drive all over wellhead country with draws and hills everywhere. OnX was critical with private sections mixed throughout the BLM and State lands.

We arrived in the unit the afternoon before opening day with just a couple hours to drive around and get oriented to where we’d start the next morning. We found a road with several wellheads secluded at the end of some draws that we thought for sure held deer. We were back in there at daylight on opening morning, and it wasn’t long before we spotted a nice 3x3 that didn’t impress my daughter too much, so she passed on him. We drove for what felt like 100 miles. We glassed canyons from vantage points, and we set up on pinch points to try and push deer out of the brush into the open. We walked for what felt like another 10 miles. We targeted public land with good cover near the private and Native American lands throughout the area and were surprised how few deer we saw on day one given how good it looked, how many fresh tracks we saw, and the fact that we didn’t see a single other hunter all day long on opening day. After a long first day, we drove into town for a full dinner to refuel and game plan for day two.

We decided to hunt the opposite side of the unit the next day. We’d driven through it a couple years earlier and recalled liking the terrain better, plus our local contacts recommended it, so we had high expectations. That first night, we got a light rain, which could not have been better timed, especially with a break for the first couple hours of daylight to keep the deer from bedding up too soon. Headed into a new area, we saw light on the horizon as we came into a long stretch of public land on both sides of the highway with two-track roads all over the hills and valleys used by well-runners to access the many wellheads. We spotted some deer and circled around them on a trail lined with tall brush and a few openings to see if they moved out of the area. With the start of the rut, we expected a buck would either be with the does or nearby, so we kept our distance until the early minutes of shooting light.

We moved in to where she could see them through the scope while I surveyed all around with binoculars. Samantha spotted the two does eating, and I found the buck walking toward the does. She waited and watched the does until the buck walked into the field of view of the scope and she said, “I see him.” I told her to make sure he was clear of the doe and reminded her to center him up right behind the front shoulder. She responded she was ready and then boom! He was hit and clearly uncomfortable, not moving well but still standing and walking very slowly. She reloaded, and after a minute of him not going down, she shot again. This time, he dropped immediately.

With no movement at all, we didn’t wait long before all three of us decided to go and see the downed buck. As we approached the spot where he dropped, my daughter saw him first and said, “He’s nice!” That’s all I needed, the reassurance that she was happy and excited about her first buck. My dad, my daughter, and I all hugged and high fived in excitement and gave thanks to our gracious Heavenly Father for the opportunity take part in His beautiful creation and to make memories like this together as family.

Thanks, Pop, for taking me hunting every year since I was little. Without you, I’d never have known this incredible adventure. And thanks to my amazing daughter for sharing in this passion for hunting. I love you, and I’m proud of you. I look forward to the next adventure with you.